This post was originally published March 2009 here.

I’m interested in your thoughts on management by telecommuters. I worked for 10 years for a large non-profit organization in DC. About 2 or 3 years ago, they began to allow more people to telecommute. My much younger, green director worked from home 2 or 3 days a week. Her immediate boss (the dept. head) lived out of state was only in the office 2 weeks of the month. I could have opted to work from home (WFH) myself, but I was in a “body-count dependent” carpool, plus I would be bored and distracted at home all day.

I had been friendly coworkers with my boss for several years before she became the director. She had 4 children under the age of 7 and a long commute, so I completely understood her desire to WFH. Therefore, I was shocked one day on a con call when I told someone I couldn’t talk to them that afternoon at 1:00 because I had a doctor’s appointment, but could we do it later in the afternoon. My boss, who was also on the call from her home, caught me completely by surprise when she called me out about going to the appointment that she knew nothing about. Mind you, this organization was pretty laid back about these types of things and it had been close to a decade since I had to get prior permission to visit a doctor, particularly since I was going during my lunch. Also, the topic to be discussed was not of a timely nature.

One hour, 15 minutes later, when I returned from the doctor’s, I had waiting for me both an email and a VM informing me to code my time as PTO and, in the future, to always let her know when I was going to be out of the office. This from a woman who could be getting a pedicure at that very moment for all the rest of us knew. I always just assumed that during her WFH time, she was caring for her children, taking them to the doctor, picking them up from school, etc. It certainly did not bother me because it’s a new world, right? It’s all about results and not so much about bottom-time-in-the-chair, right? Well, apparently not for the daily schleppers.

Every morning I fought traffic to meet my carpool at 7:30. We then jumped from one car to another, in all weathers, schlepping bags, laptops, coats, etc. Then we fought traffic again to get to DC. In the evening, we did it all over again. I did this five days/week for years only to be called out on a doctor’s appointment by someone wearing a bathrobe?? I was livid. What a ridiculous (and hypocritical) double standard. Needless to say, a huge row ensued. I decided right then I was leaving the organization. I stayed there until I found another job (about 3 months) and have now been happily employed for 16 months, with another telecommuter for a boss. However, he has never treated any employee this way. He is older and more seasoned and — I suspect — knows how to pick his battles.

I’d be interested in your comments on this situation and how telecommuters can successfully manage daily schleppers without such hypocrisy.

I think you’ve mistaken telecommuting for not working.

That bugs me.

If your boss, with 4 children under 7, has them home with her while she’s working, she’s remiss in her duties. Yes, yes, I’m all about results, but you cannot effectively put in an 8 hour day with 4 little helpers. Sure, keeping an infant nearby is one thing, but 4 is impossible.

My bet is that your boss had them in daycare. Or she had a nanny. I’m sure she occasionally picked them up or took them to doctor’s appointments. She undoubtedly told her boss she was doing so as well.

I agree with you that your boss over-reacted about your doctor’s appointment. But, why didn’t you talk to her about it then? Instead, you had a huge fight with her where you probably made comments about working in a bathrobe. This is what we like to call foolish.

You could have apologized and explained that your previous boss hadn’t required prior notification for short amounts of time out of the office. She probably would have accepted your apology and life would go on.

You pointed out that she used to be a peer. She probably felt like her new underlings weren’t respecting her and chose to assert herself in this situation to “show who is boss.” It was a foolish and inexperienced thing to do. But, it had NOTHING to do with telecommuting.

I’m a fan of telecommuting. Ideally, I like to see partial telecommuting and partial in office time. I think that is the best solution for team cohesiveness and work-life balance–for those who desire to work from home. Not everybody does. I telecommute because of commuting distance, but if I lived close to the office, I’d prefer to work in one.

You decided you couldn’t work for this woman, so you found a new job. Yeah! Many people would suffer and moan and complain. You actively sought work elsewhere and found it. It’s possible you could have salvaged the relationship, but you chose not to. This is fine.

But don’t let her inexperience put you against telecommuting. And don’t let your pesky gender bias get in your way either. I noticed you haven’t accused your new, male boss off extra-curricular activities during the day. Be careful what you assume. It can come back to bite you.


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4 thoughts on “TBT: Telecommuting Bosses

  1. I think the LW completely overreacted, to their boss’ overreaction.. There may have been other reasons she needed the discussion to happen at 1:00, but didn’t say..

  2. My only comment would be that the boss should not have “called the person out” in front of others. I agree with everything else, however.

  3. Wow, yeah lots of things stand out here to me.

    First, yes, the gender bias. The new female boss reacted oddly to the appointment she didn’t know about but that warrants a conversation, not a row and all the subsequent assumptions about her productivity and habits. Would the new male boss get the same reaction if he made a similar error in judgment?

    Second, I assume much has changed in the last six years since this was written with regard to telecommuting, or at least I’d hope so. As someone who regularly and routinely WFH, I got more done and put in more hours because of the flexibility, so my eyebrows are up to here with some of the assumptions. Just because you would be distracted WFH doesn’t mean others would be, particularly those for whom WFH is a regular schedule.
    I personally maintain the same “no personal work/calls/contact during work hours” rule whether I’m at home or at the office. I’m less likely to be distracted at home because I can control that environment far more effectively. And whether I’m in a bathrobe or a suit WFH makes no difference – I’m working when I’m working, period.

    Third, the idea that it was an us against them mentality that drove her question about your being away was rather harsh in the absence of other information. While the questioning in the rather public forum wasn’t warranted IMO, there could have been any number of legitimate reasons that had nothing to do with the LW being “a daily schlepper” or the boss being a telecommuter.

  4. I think the advice was right here. If you had just later talked to your boss you probably could have worked it out. Apologize for not letting her know, tell her you used lunch time, and in the future shoot her an email in advance.

    I think you resented your long commute and what you believed was her “easier” life and you exploded. It’s great that you found another job, but it might be worth being honest with yourself so it doesn’t happen again.

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